The Hidden Dangers of Asbestos

Over 5,000 people a year die in the UK alone from asbestos-related diseases, that’s more than the number of people killed on the roads. Therefore, the dangers of this substance shouldn’t be ignored.

With around 20 tradesmen dying each week as a result of past exposure, we need to be aware of its presence in older buildings and we need to know what to do in the likelihood of being exposed to it. To ensure that we are aware and prepared for asbestos, here is everything you need to know about it.

What is Asbestos?

From the ancient Greek meaning ‘inextinguishable,’ the name ‘Asbestos’ was given to a group of naturally occurring fibrous materials due to their fire-resistant properties. Due to this property, along with it being a good insulator, strong and resistant to chemicals, asbestos became a widely used substance in the construction industry.

The most common sub-classifications that are encountered are:

  • Chrysotile (Serpentine) – ‘white’ asbestos – fibres are curly, flexible and readily absorb water
  • Amosite (Amphiboles) – ‘brown’ asbestos – fibres are straight, stiff and do not readily absorb water
  • Crocidolite (Amphiboles) – ‘blue’ asbestos – fibres are straight, stiff and do not readily absorb water

Close up of a green gasket made of asbestos

The Dangers of Asbestos

Over time, asbestos was found to be a cancer-causing agent and was banned in the UK in 2003. It is often referred to as ‘killer dust,’ as when its fibres are inhaled, they lodge in the soft internal tissue of the respiratory system and are not easily expelled from the body. In time, usually due to chronic exposure, this can lead to fatal illnesses such as:

  • Diffuse Pleural Thickening
  • Asbestosis
  • Lung Cancer
  • Mesothelioma

Where Can it Be Found?

As asbestos was a popular building material from the 1950s to the 90s, the material can still be found in buildings that were built before the 2000s. It is most likely to be found in:

  • Floor Tiles/Linoleum
  • Ceiling Tiles
  • Window Putty
  • Soffit Boards
  • Stucco
  • Partition Walls
  • Drywall Taping Compound
  • Textured Decorative Coating
  • Board Siding / Undersheeting
  • Spray Applied Fireproofing or Vermiculite
  • Pipe or Electrical Wire Insulation
  • Roof Felt and Shingles
  • Roof Gutters

A warning sign for asbestos

What to Do if You’re Faced with Asbestos

To handle asbestos appropriately, you first need to know where it is most likely to be found. Only then can you ensure the proper procedures are carried out and an environment in safe to live or work in.

When potentially faced with asbestos, you need to:

  1. Keep everyone out of the area
  2. Report the asbestos to your employer or the person in charge
  3. Put up a warning sign about the possible asbestos contamination
  4. Consult an HSE­-licensed contractor to inspect the building
  5. Have all identified materials containing asbestos removed by a professional

Read: Asbestos: What it is and Why it’s a Legal Responsibility for more information on your legal responsibility as employers

Fire fighters in their silver protective clothing

What we can do for you…

If you want more information regarding asbestos regulations, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Active HSE carries out Management and Demolition and Refurbishment Surveys, including sampling and general Asbestos related advice.

Active HSE

07921 278986



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